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Safety experts call for more public education to curb underage driving

Ilmeda Saad
Channel NewsAsia

Safety experts are calling for road safety education to be extended to upper secondary students.

This comes after the death of a 16-year-old boy who slammed into a tree while driving without a licence on Monday.

In Singapore, anyone below the age of 18 is not allowed to drive.

A 17-year-old youth, who wants to be known simply as “John”, could very well typify your average youth on the verge of getting his driving licence.

Like other boys Channel NewsAsia spoke to, he has heard of friends taking joyrides using their parents’ car. They are underaged, without a driving licence, and just out to have a good time.

“John” said: “(They do this) partly (due to) peer pressure, partly to have fun, and they (do not) have to waste money on taxi fares.”

But these bouts of fun can be dangerous, with some youths revving up to 140 kilometres per hour on the speedometer.

Tan Jin Thong, president, The National Safety Council of Singapore, said: “Driving on the road is already very dangerous, it is a skill that has to be acquired and learnt.

“These youngsters, the underaged especially, they think that driving on the road is so easy… just moving the steering wheel, controlling the car to go straight, left or right, and stepping on the accelerator and knowing how to apply the brake…

“But in fact, that is not true. There is a lot more to learn on road safety and safe driving. If you do not go through a proper course in driving and you do not have a valid licence, I don’t see how they will be able to react in an emergency.

“And they not only pose a danger to themselves, but in fact also pose a hazard to other motorists, pedestrians; and (if) they are carrying passengers who could be their friends, they are also endangering their lives.”

Police figures showed that the number of people caught driving cars without a valid licence shot up 30 per cent to 25 in 2007. There were five such offenders in the first half of this year.

One area that may be lacking is public education. One hears a lot about anti-drink driving messages targeted at youths, but hardly anything on underage driving.

Police have also said that currently they do not have any programmes with schools to address this.

Singapore’s Automobile Association said it plans to widen its road safety education outreach to youths in tertiary institutions in the coming months.

Its CEO, Lee Wai Mun, said: “It is important for young drivers to understand that driving without a licence, as well as reckless driving and drink driving, are very serious offences, as such irresponsible acts could endanger not just their own lives, but also put other road users at risk.

“At the same time, driving is also a skill that one becomes more adept with through experience and practice.”

Mr Tan said: “I think it is a good idea that it can start from the schools, especially the upper secondary, because those students are around 15, 16 years old and they observe the adults driving, and they think that they want to have a try, and one day sneak into their parents’ car, their brother’s car, and then just get a few of their friends to be around, and once they come across an emergency, they’ve had it…”

Anyone caught driving without a licence could be fined up to S$2,000 and jailed up to six months.

A first-time offender will face a maximum fine of S$1,000 or a jail term not exceeding three months. A repeat offender faces a maximum fine of S$2,000 or a maximum jail term of six months. – CNA/ms